Go steady on education

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Go steady on education

President Lee Myung-bak seems determined to reduce spending on private education fees. In a cabinet meeting Wednesday, the president ordered Ahn Byong-man, the minister of education, science and technology, to draw up measures to reduce private education expenditures.

In a meeting with education superintendents from 16 cities and provinces across the country, held at the Blue House later on Wednesday, Lee also emphasized the role that strengthening public education will play in decreasing the nation’s reliance on private tutoring and institute fees.

One of Lee’s campaign pledges involved cutting spending on private education by half.

But last year, the first year of his administration, total spending on private education amounted to 20.9 trillion won ($15.9 billion), a 4.3 percent increase from the year before. The president berated education officials for not having actively implemented his policy directives and scolded them, saying that even his daughter did not believe that his pledge would be realized.

This is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed. Excessive spending on private education damages household budgets and diminishes the quality of public education.

Now that the president has made his wishes on the subject known, it would be reasonable to expect that new measures will be presented and implemented quickly. Still, there are concerns that the president’s scolding and stern requests will result in an education policy that is made in haste, when it is a matter that must be handled carefully.

Calls for a ban on classes in private institutes after 10 p.m. have arisen again. But regulating private institutes without reducing demand for private tutoring will not work. The failure of the total ban on private education implemented by the administration of former President Chun Doo Hwan tells us that.

Although it may take time, the best way would be to restore public education by increasing competition among schools, which would in turn lead to improvements in education as a whole. If public schools can get better results than private institutions, the demand for private education will decrease. It would also be good to have different class levels for students with different levels of ability and to designate classrooms by subject so that students are moving from room to room and not teachers.

The teachers are the key to all of this. Only when teachers have enthusiasm does the quality of education they are able to offer improve. Another thing we need is a teacher evaluation system that will serve to enhance teacher skills while filtering out unqualified teachers.

If we try to cure a disease too quickly it can actually make things worse. The same could be said of private tutoring.

What is needed is a sound education policy made with the time and care it deserves and implemented with an equal amount of patience.
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